The status quo, stigma and stereotypes are not cultural phenomenons that Laverne Cox permits to shift the winds of her life. Known best to television audiences as Sophia Burset — fire fighter-turned-con artist-turned-prison hairdresser — from Netflix’s hit show, Orange is the New Black (OITNB), the Alabama native’s fame extends beyond the screen, stretching far over into the political arena, where Cox is celebrated as a champion of transgender equality.
Since her introduction to television back in 2008 via VH1’s mega-popular reality series, I Want to Work for Diddy, — for which Cox received the honour of a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program — the actress, producer, writer has been stirring up buzz in Hollywood and beyond for her groundbreaking role as a transgender inmate on OITNB and advocacy within the transgender community.
“It’s a lot of pressure definitely, but at the end of the day I always try to proceed with passion,” says Cox when asked if she feels the weight of her trailblazer status as an actress, as well as a public speaker. “Elevating trans issues and stories, and being a part of critical discussions about social justice and gender is part of what I am passionate about. I am just trying to follow my passions and lift up my trans siblings whenever I can.”
The resident glamazon of Litchfield Penitentiary, Cox nails the nuances of her dynamic Sophia character with swift wit, expert ease and a well-measured amount of sashay, making her a series favourite. And Miss Burset has a 4th place spot on Time’s 11 Most Influential Fictional Characters of 2013 list to prove it, while Cox herself was crowned the magazine’s cover model for its weekly issue published at the end of May.
Prepping (and primping) for OITNB’s Season 2 premiere on June 6th, Cox takes a moment to talk with FILLER about playing the show’s most fashion-conscious inmate and the secret behind creating her own glamorous personal style off screen.
We’re all very excited here at the magazine for the new season of Orange is the New Black, in a nutshell, and of course without giving too much away, what awaits your character Sophia Burset this season? Any exciting developments you can share?
I think we’ll see different sides of Sophia this new season. There’s one scene where the writing was so funny I laughed through most of my takes. That’s never happened to me before. Our writers are amazing.
Sounds intriguing! I love how un-cookie cutter the drama is, was that something that originally attracted you to the project?
Absolutely. The writing and tone of the show consistently excite me. It’s so smart and often touching at the same time. The show is also deeply socially relevent. We can’t really talk a out America without talking about its prison system.
The writing is definitely smart. The show also looks like it would be fun to make, is it something of a girls’ night every day on set?
It’s still a job…and how much I gab with the girls depends on the scenes I am shooting that day. If I have a serious day of scene work, I cocoon myself a bit to really focus and don’t socialize on set much, but when I have a lighter day, then I hang more and kiki with the ladies.
Any particularly fun moments that standout?
I remember I was shooting right after the self-titled Beyonce album came out, I had everyone watching the videos. You must get into Bey. Sometimes we have super serious talks, and other times we talk boys and dating and sing and dance around a lot. We have range. It’s great.
You’ve made great strides for transgender issues both through your acting career and your work promoting awareness off screen. What would you say has been one of the most positive developments regarding transgender equality as of late?
I think it is the visibility of so many amazing trans folks, who are insisting on setting the agenda. That changes hearts and minds and public policy when people can truly get to know us as people on our own terms, not in the sensationalized, objectifying and dehumanizing ways which have dominated trans representations in the past.
On that note, do you feel like there is still an out-dated stigma attached to transgender women in the world? What about Hollywood in specific?
Absolutely there is still a tremendous amount of stigma. I think it’s really revealed when we talked about loving trans people. The extent to which straight identified men who are attracted to trans women are stigmatized gives us lots of clues about how trans women are stigmatized. I think far too often representations of trans folks have reflected that stigma, but that is being challenged. Things are changing slowly… but we have a long way to go still.
Let’s talk fashion! With your wardrobe being so limited on the show, do you get even more excited about shopping and things like red carpet events where you can try on different outfits until you find the perfect one?
Red carpets are lots of work and trying on clothes can be frustrating. I am not sample size. Right now I fluctuate between a size 10 and a size 12…I am 5’11. But when I find that dress that fits just right, it is magic. It’s a great feeling, and I love beautiful clothes, but the process is often not fun to get there. It’s work.
How would you describe your red carpet style or does your style change depending on your mood? You seem to lean towards ultra-glam looks, which we love!
I love glamour. I love lashes and long hair. For the red carpet I like to mix it up, but I tend to like body conscious designs. Since I am a bigger girl I have to hug and love my curves.
How would you describe your everyday personal style?
Easy and confortable. It also depends on what I am doing for the day. For meetings I like to be professional, so I will be taken seriously, but because my on camera work and appearances requires such high production values, so to speak, I like to keep it super simple in my downtime. Legging, ballet flats and T-shirts. A decade ago, I would not have worn T-shirts. So I have learned how to be casual. I know now that my value comes from what I feel and think — what I can express — not how I look
What item in your closet would you never want to part with?
Gosh, that’s hard to say. At the end of the day it’s just stuff. I have this vintage monogrammed Dior clutch I just adore. It was the first high end hand bag I owned. I love it.
What item in your closet might have already overstayed its welcome?
I am in the process of redecorating. I need to do another closet purge. Because I have a typically small New York City apartment, I have to constantly purge. I have probably way too many Payless shoes in my closet. It feels good to pay less, but it leads to too many shoes in the closet.
That’s true! What look are you going for this summer season? Any particular trends your excited about?
I haven’t really thought it through yet. I tend to get a uniform for the day and then have looks for work and appearances. I am really into mixing feminine shapes with something with a little more edge right now. I think I will think more about summer when it is hotter. I am very last minute.
What about the mismatched prints phenomenon that’s taking over the streets, think you’d dare to try that one out or do you prefer more classic ensembles?
I am open to that trend. I haven’t tried it yet. Prints are always tricky and don’t always photograph well, but I think it needs to be done very carefully.
What are some of your fave brands, and what do you like about their style?
I am obsessed with Herve Leger at the moment. The clothes just really conform to my body and show off everything I want to. I love what Max has been doing with prints and hardware the past few seasons as well — the classic bandage with some edge. I am obsessed. I love Zac Posen as well on the other end of the spectrum. The drama, femininity and construction make his clothes always breathtaking.
What style trait do you feel like is most attractive to people? In other words, if you were looking to attract attention from someone, what element of your personal style would you seek to highlight?
I think it’s about knowing who you are and honouring that — and really honoring your body. I love people who take risks and seem to be having fun with their style. I would want to highlight my sense of being self-aware and my sense of fun and a little drama.
Sounds perfect! Who is your style icon and what do you love about their signature fashion look?
Beyonce of course. The hair, the versatility, her sense of drama and how she celebrates her body. High octane glamour. At the end of the day, that’s what I love.Published May 31, 2014